Aukus: Pentagon chief meets Australian and UK ministers

Part of the pact involves the US and UK providing Australia with technology for nuclear-powered submarines

Officials from the UK, US and Australia meet to discuss Indo-Pacific security and the Aukus pact. EPA
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US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin on Wednesday met Australian and British ministers in Washington to discuss the Aukus pact.

The trilateral defence agreement, signed in September 2021, focuses "on enhancing regional stability and safeguarding a free and open Indo-Pacific, where conflicts are resolved peacefully and without coercion," the ministers said in a joint ststement.

Mr Austin said that the US, UK and Australia "more than ever" share a similar perspective on modern challenges facing the world.

“Aukus will enhance our shared ability to sustain peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

Australia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, Richard Marles, arrived in Washington on Tuesday, holding meetings on regional concerns and the war in Ukraine.

“Just over a year ago Aukus was put in place, which speaks to, I think, a shared mission between our three countries to work together to pursue advanced military capability and do so at a time where the strategic circumstances faced by the world are as complex and precarious as really we’ve seen since the end of the Second World War,” Mr Marles said.

The ministers said the pact would "make a positive contribution to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region by enhancing deterrence".

They said they had reviewed progress on Australia's effort to acquire nuclear-powered submarines and the development of advanced capabilities.

“Since creating this trilateral security partnership, our defence forces, industries and scientific communities have been hard at work,” Mr Austin said.

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“Over the past 15 months, we’ve made great progress towards identifying a pathway for Australia to acquire conventionally armed and nuclear-powered submarines.

“Today on behalf of President [Joe] Biden, I want to reaffirm the US commitment to ensuring that Australia acquires this capability at the earliest possible date and in adherence with the highest non-proliferation standards.”

The move to form the pact angered France, which since 2016 had been in negotiations with Australia to build a fleet of 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines in a deal worth $90 billion.

The Aukus announcement led to Australia cancelling its contract with Paris, resulting in the loss of major investment and job opportunities for France.

France called the move a “stab in the back”, as secret negotiations had been taking place since earlier in the year, but Paris withdrew the angry statement in the weeks following the deal's announcement.

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British Defence Minister Ben Wallace said he was glad Australia was “seeking to join that club of highly capable, some of the most complex machines on Earth” that would give the country “historic reach”.

“And we will do everything we can in our capability to help support, to get you that capability,” Mr Wallace said.

Mr Marles said his country was eager to take the “next step forward in galvanising our capabilities, our shared values and upholding the things that we all hold dear, whether that is freedom, democracy, freedom of navigation, the rule of law”.

The Aukus pact has largely been considered as a move to counter China's influence in the Indo-Pacific.

Beijing has been made uneasy by the pact, calling it an “irresponsible act” that would damage regional stability and intensify an arms race in the Indo-Pacific.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said after the announcement of the agreement that the three allies should “abandon their outdated Cold War zero-sum thinking” or risk “shooting themselves in the foot”.

Updated: December 07, 2022, 10:06 PM
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